The Hunter Smith Family Foundation has generously offered to donate $200,000 to the construction of the Judge Jay T. Swett Learning Center if the Bridge is able to raise $400,000. Thank you for your consideration to join us in this opportunity.
President John F. Kennedy said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”
William Washington was raised in a home of abuse. When he left home at the age of 14 after being shot by his father, he began living on the streets of Charlottesville. In order to survive, he started selling drugs and fell deeper and deeper into the lifestyle of addiction. After a few times of going back and forth to jail, he found himself in the courtroom, standing before the Honorable Judge Jay Swett, 16th Circuit Court judge in Virginia, and facing a 17 year sentence. William knew he needed help to get out of his situation so he asked Judge Swett to grant him an alternative instead of serving time in jail. The judge heard about William’s life, had compassion on him, and granted him the opportunity to suspend his sentence and enter into the New Life For Youth program to help overcome his abuse and addiction.
William was successful in the program. When he entered back into the community and began living a productive life, he knew there were so many others who needed support. He started reaching out to those who were in a similar situation and provided them a place to stay and also helped them find a job. During that time, Judge Swett was discouraged to see so many individuals coming back before him, even after they were extended an opportunity to participate in an alternative program on probation, similar to the opportunity he gave William. He knew they needed more than just the chance to get out of jail. He expressed this concern to one of the officers of the court. This officer was recently in another courtroom where he heard William testifying on behalf of an individual to help him enter into New Life For Youth as an alternative. William shared how he received this opportunity from Judge Swett and wanted to help others receive the same. The officer shared this story with Judge Swett and let him know that he played a part in changing William’s life and how William was now doing the same for others.
Judge Swett was happy to hear this story and wanted to meet William. They soon met and William shared what he was doing. Judge Swett invited him to join a men’s group that he was a part of. As they started building their relationship, they started working together to serve the community and also went on mission trips together. One day, William shared that he would like to establish a program similar to the one he completed with New Life For Youth. Judge Swett began to spearhead that vision. He brought the men’s group and others together to seek out opportunities to build a Bridge to help the community. Together, they established a house in Charlottesville where they gathered every morning at 6:00 to fellowship and discuss how they could give back and serve and support each other. They opened the home to men coming from jail who were homeless and helped them find a job. These men now had an accountability group around them as they made the transition from incarceration.
William and Judge Swett were happy to see how the community was coming together to help make a difference in these mens’ lives, but they knew in order for these men to be successful, they needed a long term program. William, Judge Swett, and others from the men’s group started seeking to find a rural area so those they were serving could get away from the day-to-day challenges that had been holding them in bondage to their addiction and behavior. They soon found a 17 acre piece of property in Buckingham County that The Bridge Ministry was able to purchase. William knew in order to be successful, each man had to retrain his mind and his way of thinking. They had to take a deeper look than just the addiction; they had to look at the life that had created it. In order to accomplish this, the men needed counseling, classes to focus on their addiction and addictive behavior, and also certifications to help them become financially self reliant.
Fast forward to 2018. The Bridge partnered with Piedmont Virginia Community College in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was recently recognized as the number one community college in the state, to provide job training for high-demand jobs. Students are able to receive certifications in heating and air, welding, electrical work, small engine repair, diesel engine repair, hydraulics, culinary classes, and many more. Over the last three years, over 98% of students have passed the certification classes.
Now, The Bridge Ministry is in need of a facility that can provide adequate space in order to teach 25-50 students. This space for vocational and educational classes is a critical part of changing a man’s life. The training he receives allows him to provide for himself and his family as well as pay his legal responsibilities once he graduates. Through the support of the community, we have a design for a new 10,000 square foot learning center. This learning center will serve men coming from incarceration who have a lack of hope, no focus, and no skills. We are dedicating this building to honor Judge Jay Swett, who has worked faithfully and diligently behind the scenes to serve our community, support the Bridge, and help men change their lives. The Judge Jay T. Swett Learning Center will be a life changing experience for those who are seeking a new life.
The Bridge Ministry is a 501(c)3. All donations are tax deductible. The Bridge Ministry has been in operation for 25 years and has one of the highest success rates in the country. More than 86% of the men who complete the program return to the community as productive members and do not return to incarceration. The Bridge Ministry is needed now more than ever. Drug addiction is at epidemic proportions. Give to overcome addiction. To save lives. To make a difference. Thank you for your consideration.